Trials of Socrates

Better ideas.
July 31 1997 3:30 AM

Trials of Socrates

The way we teach law is worse than sexist. It's idiotic.

Becoming Gentlemen: Women, Law School, and Institutional Change
By Lani Guinier, Michelle Fine, and Jane Balin
Beacon Press; 208 pages; $22

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These suggestions are not new; a similar program for reform was advanced as long ago as the 1930s by Yale Law School Professor Jerome Frank. Although law-school curricula have diversified a lot since then, the basic orientation of the top schools remains the same--focused on abstractions rather than skills, ways of thinking rather than tools of practice. And these tendencies are at least as pronounced among liberals as among conservatives. For instance, Guinier and her co-authors write that their ideal classroom is "one in which the theoretical, practical, and ethical notions of justice and injustice are discussed, critiqued, and imagined anew." But this is just Langdellism dressed up in the self-congratulatory argot of the academic left: legal education as free-range bull session. Women in law schools--and men too--would be better off learning how to do something about justice, not just how to talk about it.

David Franklin has written for the New Republic and the East European Constitutional Review. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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